Surrealist Novelist Haruki Murakami, 67, Thinks There's Freedom In Not Knowing Your Next Step

Photo by Nobuyoshi Araki

Photo by Nobuyoshi Araki

Murakami's style is simple, even apparently casual, on the surface, and Tsukuru Tazaki, like many of his previous novels, has divided critics into those who find it banal and those who perceive greater depth in its vividness and precision of imagery. Like most simple styles, of course, his is the result of lots of hard work. "I take time to rewrite," he explains. "Rewriting is my favourite part of writing. The first time is a kind of torture, sometimes. Raymond Carver [whose work Murakami has translated into Japanese] said the same thing. I met him and I talked with him in 1983 or 84, and he said: 'The first draft is kind of torture, but when you rewrite it's getting better, so you are happy, it's getting better and better and better.'" There is never a deadline for a Murakami novel – "I don't like deadlines …when it's finished, it's finished. But before then, it is not finished." Sometimes he can't tell when he should stop rewriting, but "my wife knows. Yes. Sometimes she decides: 'You should be finished here.'" He smiles and imitates his own obedient response: "'OK!'"

Right now, Murakami is not writing anything. "After 1Q84," he says, "I was so exhausted … Usually when I'm exhausted by writing a big novel, I write a set of short stories. But not that time … I didn't have any strong energy to descend" – he mimes going down into the basement. "You have to be strong to descend into the darkness of your mind." But after finishing Tsukuru Tazaki, Murakami wrote six short stories in three months; they were published this summer in Japan, under a title meaning "Men Without Women". He might, he thinks, begin another novel next year. A long one, like an odd-numbered Beethoven symphony? "I think maybe a big book, yes."

What would he still like to achieve for himself, as a writer? "Honestly, I don't have any idea," he replies. "Scott Fitzgerald was my idol when I was young. But he died when he was 40-something. I love Truman Capote, but he died at 50-something. And Dostoyevsky is my ideal writer, but he died at 59. I'm 65 right now. I don't know what's going to happen! So I have no role model. I have no idea – when I am 80 years old, what will I write? I don't know. Maybe I'm running and writing …That would be great. But nobody knows.'" - Steven Poole via The Guardian